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questions. a special edition of "nightline: syria, a dictator speaks," begins right now. >> announcer: from the global resources of abc news, with terry moran, cynthia mcfadden and bill weir in new york city, this is "nightline," december 7th, 2011. >> good evening, i'm bill weir. and tonight, we bring you a special edition of "nightline." in a major network exclusive, abc's barbara wealters is just back from another arab country seemingly on the brink of overtloug another dictator. syria. barbara is the first allowed access to the country since a nine-month-old revolution began. she was invited there to conduct an extraordinary interview with the embattled syrian president, bashar al assad, accused of a brutal crackdown that's taken at least 4,000 lives. barbara, welcome home. >> thank you. >> reporter: you sat with saddam
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hussein, mubarak, gadhafi. how does this man compare? >> very different. he's not a wild, crazy person, at least that's the way gadhafi seemed to us. he is kaup. he is soft spoken. he is articulate. he speaks very good english. there were no ground rules. he answered every question. but there is this disconnect, bill, between what we hear about this country, the reports that we have seen, and what he says and it's hard to put the two things together. it was the uprising captured by cell phone cameras and posted online for the world to see. syrian protesters, chanting for the removal of their president. the crackdown that resulted has been hard to ignore. civilians gunned down on the streets. the dead dragged away. the u.n. says 4,000 protesters
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have been killed, including more than 300 children. enemies of the regime have taken up arms. and this man, syrian president bashar al assad, once seen as a hope for change in a long, repressive dictatorship now has the attention of the world. much of the world regards you as a dictator an a tie rayrantyran? what do you say to that? >> it's important how the syrian people look at you. anyone can have their opinion, president, official, it's the same for me, outside our border. >> reporter: public opinion doesn't matter? >> outside syria? no. >> reporter: syria's uprising began in march, after fellow arab nations, tunisia and egypt, had thrown out their dictators and as the world moved against libyan deictator moammar gadhaf.
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you've seen the pictures of mubarak in jail. pictures of, in libya, of moammar gadhafi, killed. are you afraid that you might be next? >> no, i'm afraid that the people won't support me. syrian people. >> reporter: that they won't support you? >> they support me. i mean, the only thing you could be afraid of, to lose the support of your people. that's the only thing you should be afraid of. >> reporter: do you feel now that you still have the support of your people? >> if you don't have the support of the people, you cannot be in this position. syria, it's not easy. very difficult country to govern if you don't have the public support. >> reporter: you feel the majority of the people in this country support you? >> the majority are in the middle. and the majority are not against. to be precise. >> reporter: syria's arab spring began with a handful of teenagers writing anti-assad graffiti on a school. those children were taken away.
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some reportedly were tortured. and people took to the streets, raging against the regime and then came the crackdown. the crackdown in the beginning, the brutality. do you think it went too far? >> i cannot tell you this without evidence. you ask me to tell you according to rumor or to reports? it's not enough for me as president. >> reporter: i've seen awful pictures of what happened. why was this such a brutal crackdown? >> what happened? >> reporter: well, i'll give you some examples. one of them, a popular protest anthem calling for bashar to step down had his throat slit. and a well-known illustrator paid a heavy price. a cartoonist, i've seen his pictures, his hands were broken, he was beaten. >> many people criticize me. did they kill all of them? who killed who?
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most of the people that have been killed are supporters of the government. >> reporter: did you give you the order for the crackdown? >> no, we give the ardor to implement the constitution and we don't have policy. we do not have institution that kill people or give order for reaction. this is individuals and that's what they call -- what i describe as individual mistakes. >> reporter: okay. done by the military or done by whom? >> we don't know everything. in some cases, done by the police. in some cases, done by civilians, that support the government, not by police. >> reporter: but not by your command? >> no, no. no one's command. there was no command to kill or to be brutal. >> reporter: people went from houses to houses, children were arrested. >> where? >> reporter: i saw the pictures. >> to be frank, i don't -- how do you know all this? we have to hear to see. we don't see this. it all depends on what you -- >> reporter: i saw reporters who brought back pictures.
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>> how do you verify those pictures? it's -- that's why we are talking about false allegations and distortion of reality. >> reporter: do you feel guilty? >> i did my best to protect the people. you cannot feel guilty when you do your best. you feel sorry for the lives that have been lost. but you don't feel guilty when you don't kill people. >> reporter: and this is assad's main argument, his country, he says, is not on the brink of a civil war. the world has been duped by those violent videos and that this is not a fight against peaceful protesters but against armed opponents of the regime. that's what he says. >> that's what he says. the u.s. state department disagrees. a spokesman said it's either disconnect, disregard or he's crazy. >> i vote for disconnect. he's not crazy. >> when we come back, barbara will take us around damascus and confront the president further.
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we're back now to the special edition of "nightline," abc's barbara walters, more of her exclusive interview with the syrian president, bashar al assad. so tough for us to get a real picture of what's happening on the street there. what was damascus like for you? >> reporter: well, i was told, bill, before i left here, not to leave my hotel room and as a matter of fact, the jordanian airlines won't allow their pilots to stay overnight. i was a little concerned. the city is very calm, shops are open, i had a minder, a young woman with me, all the time, but i could go anywhere. people are sitting, you know, in malls, drinking coffee and so forth. and yet, one hour away, there's
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violence and people being killed. again, there's this disconnect that's very hard to put together. we landed in the capital, damascus in the early morning and found this ancient city largely quiet, no overt signs of tension or heightened security. as the stores opened, we found food stalls well stocked and busy. same with the old damascus market. only at the high end stores and hotels is the punishment starting to hurt. >> it dropped to zero right now. >> reporter: meanwhile, the protests rage on. bashar al assad was never meant to be president. his father had ruled his nation with an iron fist for 30 years and had groomed another son to lead. but after that son was killed in a car crash, the president summoned bashar, then an eye doctor in london. told him, come back to damascus.
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do you sometimes wish that you were still an opt moll gist? >> you cannot look back to see yourself as a doctor. it's an important position. >> reporter: and indeed he does. just last month, an independent united nations commission who interviewed more than 220 syrians, issued a report, stating that the syrian government committed, quote, crimes against humanity, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence against protesters, including children. do you acknowledge what the u.n. said? >> the concrete evidence that you have and we'll see if that's true or not. you have a lot of allegations now. >> reporter: did the u.n. not send up these documents? nothing at all. they don't even have the names. who are the raped people, the tortured people? who are they? we don't have any names. >> reporter: mr. president, they have issued this report, they are accused you and your resume -- >> according to what? >> reporter: according to whey
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they said is 220 people, witnesses, men, women, children, whom their interviewed and identified. and that's when they called it crimes against humanity. >> as long as we don't see the documents and the evidence, we cannot say yes. we cannot say just because the united nations, who said that the united nations is a credible institution? >> reporter: you do not think the united nations is credible? >> no. it has never been credible. never. >> reporter: the outside world has punished syria. the united states, european union and the arab league have imposed sanctions, targeting syrian banking assets and limiting travel of top officials. and in the last few months, more and more people have taken up weapons to try to topple this regime. many soldiers have defected and pledged to bring down assad. today, syria is increasingly dangerous and increasingly alone. prime minister of turkey, who
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was your ally, has said, and i quote, no regime can survive by killing or jailing. jordan says you should step down. the arab league, they have suspended you. you've lost all the support of your neighbors and friends. does that matter to you? >> nobody can support, can isolate syria because of our position. they isolate syria, syria will collapse. >> reporter: name an issue that matters in this part of the world, middle east peace, terrorism, iraq, iran. and you will find syria holds a key role and responsibility. so, what happens to this man is of vital importance. you said that if there is any outside attempt to bring you down, it would mean an earthquake. what do you mean by that? >> i didn't say that. i said messing with syria, syria is the fault line in the middle east. when you play with it, you'll have an earthquake that is going
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to affect the whole region. >> reporter: for months now, foreign reporters have not been allowed to enter the country to report on the protesters. can outside foreign reporters come? they have not been allowed. >> no, they were allowed and you are here. >> reporter: i am here, and i have a correspondent here but -- >> you've been here for two days now. did anyone tell you where to go and where not to go? nobody. you are free to go wherever you want. >> reporter: so, we took the president at his word and with his permission, we sent our corrrrespondent, abc's alex marquardt, to a city where the uprising first began. >> and when we come back, we're going to see what alex found. meanwhile, we would love to know what you think of the president's interview, what the american involume ofment in syria should be. sound off at or the "nightline" facebook page. and we have much more, when we come back. what's better than gold ? free gold ! we call that hertz gold plus rewards. you earn free days, free weeks and more fast.
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we're back now with a special edition of "nightline," an exclusive look inside the syrian uprising. after a nine-month virtual media blackout, president bashar al assad told barbara walters and her team they were free to go anywhere in the country and ask any questions they wanted. so, our correspondent, alex marquardt, went to where the rebellion started to see if that was true. >> reporter: the road south out of damascus was quiet. the plan, to visit places that until now no american cameras have been allowed. the president told us we could
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go anywhere, so we've decided to go to daraa, we're not alone. transportation has been provided by the ministry of information. daraa is where all this started in march. where brave citizens posted videos on youtube of school children arrested and tortured. protesters shot dead in the street. the town has become a symbol of resistance. despite of a strictly inforced media blackout. we had a meeting of the governor here who despite what the president said, said we're not allowed to go wherever we want. that meant we were to be escorted everywhere by an eight-car police motorcade. we tried to get to that school, where the teenagers wrote anti-assad graffiti on the walls, and were later arrested and tortured. images that emerged thanks to the internet. the governor dismissed the story as fiction and we were take on the although school. you can see, it been blacked out here and someone has written over it "leave." and up here, it says "freedom."
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we asked to meet with this man, blind and hard of hearing. he appealed for the children's release. but nothing was done. do beatings and torture continue here today? "of course," he said. "the use of force continues." later, we sat down again with the governor. has anyone been held accountable for arresting and torturing these teenagers? "the governor and police have been changed," he told us. but he didn't know if anyone had been put in jail. finally, we were left alone to walk around. >> no, no. >> reporter: okay, all right. no one wanted to talk. she doesn't want to speak on camera. and soon, we saw why. secret police still watching. when we were about to give up, this man approached us. are you against the regime? >> yes, i am against it. >> reporter: yeah? do you think he will fall?
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>> inshallah. >> reporter: god willing. he told us he had been tortured. why are you speaking with us right now? >> i believe it is our duty to open the eyes of the world about this regime. >> reporter: and you think it's an evil regime? >> it's more than evil. >> reporter: "this regime is worse than animals," he said. "even animals have mercy." for "nightline," i'm alex marquardt in syria. >> alex marquardt in damascus tonight. so, barbara, what is next for this man? >> reporter: well, he says the country it is stable, it isn't. he promises reform, elections for parliament in two months. and he says in 2014, presidential elections with opposition parties. and that if they don't want him, he'll step down. well, we'll see in the meantime, it may be too little too late. >> barbara wall sters, our
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thanks to you. and thank you for watching abc news. we hope you check in for "good morning america," they'll be working while you rest. we're always online at jimmy kimmel up next. have a great night, america. >> dicky: up next on an all-new "jimmy kimmel live" -- jane fonda. >> jimmy: can i fix you there? you mind if i plug you in? i put my phone number down your pants. >> dicky: russell brand. >> i have worked out to jane fonda. >> jimmy: you have? is anyone ready for some yelling? >> smile and talk at the same time you moron! >> jimmy: now the future is going to know we were

ABC December 7, 2011 11:35pm-12:00am EST

News/Business. Cynthia McFadden, Terry Moran, Bill Weir. (2011) New. (HD) (CC)

TOPIC FREQUENCY Syria 16, Damascus 7, Us 7, Bashar Al Assad 5, Alex Marquardt 4, United Nations 4, Abc 4, U.n. 3, Barbara 3, Jane Fonda 2, Li 2, Gadhafi 2, Hertz Gold Plus Rewards 2, Michael 2, Assad 2, Barbara Walters 2, Kimmel 2, America 2, Streaming 1, New York City 1
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